St-Pierre's exit leaves door open for return

December, 14, 2013
12/14/13
12:02
AM ET
Okamoto By Brett Okamoto
ESPN.com
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The greatest welterweight in the history of mixed martial arts, and one of the sport's most influential figures of all time, did the unthinkable on Friday.

Georges St-Pierre, 32, vacated the highly coveted UFC title, saying that after a near 12-year career that has included 14 UFC title fights, he needed to take an indefinite leave of absence to focus on living "a more normal life."

Even in the current media landscape, where news is broken, analyzed and moved on from almost instantaneously, this announcement figures to linger for a bit.

The reason St-Pierre gave for walking away from the absolute pinnacle of his sport was, more or less, that he was tired. In addition to some personal issues he refused to detail, it sounds like St-Pierre has simply grown to dread the weight of that belt.

"Nobody can understand my situation," St-Pierre said. "All this pressure and all this weight I carry on my shoulders.

"Everywhere I go, as soon as I step out of my house, people are [talking about my fights]. It's completely insane. It's every day of my life. Nobody can understand this."

St-Pierre is right, obviously. No one can understand the exact circumstances he's personally under. But if anyone can come close, it might be Anderson Silva.

Connected in one way or another for years (at times, as potential opponents), St-Pierre and Silva have faced similar trials this year in their respective careers.

Silva lost the UFC middleweight title to Chris Weidman via second-round knockout, exactly 133 days before St-Pierre fought Johny Hendricks to a bitterly close split-decision win. It was Silva's first loss in 17 UFC fights.

[+] EnlargeChris Weidman
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/ Getty ImagesIf there's one fighter able to relate to Georges St-Pierre's decision, it's former UFC champion Anderson Silva following his loss to Chris Weidman.
Immediately after, Silva said he was tired. He claimed he would no longer fight for the UFC belt anymore. He didn't want an immediate rematch against Weidman, whom he made it a point to repeatedly call the champion.

There were other details worth noting. Prior to the fight, Silva tried to give Weidman the belt to hold at a press conference. He predicted in a pre-fight video, which later drew massive interest on the Internet, that Weidman would beat him.

Neither Silva nor St-Pierre appears to have lost his love for the sport -- St. Pierre said Friday he would continue training regularly and improving his skills and, during a recent interview in Brazil, Silva said he would do the same even if he were to lose again and be "forced" into retirement by the UFC.

And they aren't falling apart physically, either. Silva, 38, showed no visible sign of athletic decline in his loss to Weidman. Although St-Pierre's win over Hendricks was close, it was still against one of the most talented and dangerous fighters in his division.

It's hard to sum up two of the most successful MMA careers of all time into one neat comparison (which wouldn't be accurate anyway), but I guess what I'm saying here is that when St-Pierre described his situation, I thought of Silva.

When talking about his future, St-Pierre sounded genuinely excited about the prospect of having to "climb Everest" again. He even mentioned the specific act of wearing (challenger) blue gloves for once, instead of the (champion) red gloves.

I don't think St-Pierre is done in the Octagon. He left the door too blatantly open for a return and he loves the sport too much.

But I think he might be searching for an answer to the question that hopefully Silva has already found (considering he fights this month): How do you want to become a champion again?

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